Black Lives Matter NYC student-led march, June 2020. Photo courtesy of @nycstudents4justice

By Carlos Prates Tavares, age 16

On May 26, after the death of George Floyd, protests against police brutality and racism sparked across the country. These protests are reminiscent of the civil rights movement, bearing uncanny resemblances as well as differences.

While their goals are similar, the civil rights movement fought against explicitly racist policies, while the current Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement fights against racism which is a lot more implicit and ingrained in American culture. Nowadays, those who disagree with Black Lives Matter use the gains of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” against the current movement, citing the first Black president as evidence that there is no racism and that people of color (POC) are not oppressed. If anything, they argue, white people are as oppressed as POC. Because the BLM movement is intersectional, some of its opponents may claim to not be racist, but oppose BLM for homophobic or transphobic reasons. 

Another important similarity between the two movements is the participation of youth. From the perspective of a fairly progressive generation, there is a lot more to be done in order to ensure the intended outcome of this movement. Generation Z (Gen-Z, born between 1995 and 2012), often nicknamed “zoomers,” has been actively standing up against President Trump and protesting in solidarity with BLM. After Trump announced that he would be holding a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and on the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, Gen-Z decided to “troll” Trump by reserving a significant amount of seats at his rally. Trump’s campaign manager boasted of having received at least 1 million ticket requests. Unbeknownst to the campaign, only a small percentage of ticket holders would show up. In addition to the tremendous morale loss for Trump’s campaign, the rally reportedly cost upwards of $2 million. A study by Pew Research Center indicated that 95% of teenagers have access to smartphones and that 97% use social media. This accessibility to the internet and to social media allows for new forms of protest and of action that would have previously been unfathomable

Just like the BLM protests, youth in the civil rights movement were vital in their cause. In April of 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was founded with the intention of creating an organization dedicated to peaceful yet direct methods of protest. Another very important movement in which youth played a significant role was the 1964 New York School Boycott, in which students boycotted the public school system to protest against the segregation of New York schools, an issue still prevalent and being discussed today. These protests are being reflected through the protests today dedicated to the removal of police officers in schools and against segregation within the school system, as well. While both movements relied heavily on youth participation, it is arguable that whereas in the 1960s these protests and organizations were more organized, the majority of the youth today protest and advocate through the internet and social media in addition to physical protests — a method less organized yet arguably more effective.

It is commonly accepted that the civil rights movement ended with the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) with significant advances being made in regard to social justice, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1968. While it is impossible to predict the future, there is hope for real and significant change.

 

Glossary

Reminiscent: To remind you of something, resembles something else
Uncanny: Strange, especially in an unsettling way
Implicit: Implied, but not plainly expressed
Ingrained: Firmly fixed or established; difficult to change
Intersectional: Involving members of multiple social categories
Unbeknownst: Without the knowledge of
Unfathomable: Incapable of being fully explored or understood